There’s no doubt that a remodeling, addition or new construction job brings stress to the homeowners. Just ask me. Last spring we added a new upstairs bedroom and a downstairs entryway and mudroom, losing our attic space, emptying our garage and losing a bay in the process. Where to put the stuff and how to find it again were just two of the stresses encountered. We chose to hire a project manager, so hiring of all the subs was his problem, but we stressed and sweated over every decision. In fact, most veterans of a remodeling project will tell you that the two key qualities you need to survive a home project are the ability to make decisions and spend money—fast. If you’re indecisive or wildly controlling when it comes to finances, better take a relaxation class. Like to cook in your own kitchen and sleep in your own bed? Well, you’d better plan how you’re going to stay in your home while the work is being done and what facilities you will need to live without. One of our colleagues just moved the kitchen out to the patio for the summer. They ate off the grill and stored all refrigerated and pantry items in the garage. Their main stress was weather! So, you like your morning coffee and a chance to get the kids or yourself on the road? Forget it—during a house remodel, your schedule begins at 7 a.m. with the builders. Sick? Too bad. I had the flu and had to give up my bedroom because they were working in there. Oh, and I HAD to pick my fixtures right away, flu or no flu. Funny, that bath was a week late being installed. Why did they need my choices that day? Remember back when you had work and a life? Well, during remodeling, the house becomes your work and your life. I’m getting stressed just writing this. Oh, did I mention the errors or “disappointments,” like the lovely golden paint color that came out some shade of Band-Aid®, the stairs that weren’t supposed to have noses, the doors that don’t block sound and the garage door that sounds like the depot downtown? Don’t like to communicate? Well, forget that. You’ll have to find as many ways to explain the layout you want as there are words for snow in Eskimo. But, in the end, whether you are your own contractor or the boss, the silence, beauty and new space are entirely worth it once it’s done. So, sign up for a yoga class, get sleep now and start planning for your remodel. At the very least, book a massage for yourself along the way.
I've got to admit that I'm the first to preach about increasing energy efficiency in our homes, but not the first to make it happen. The truth is: I'd love to replace every dated window in my home, but I can't afford it. I know there are tax credits and I'd love to cash in, but new windows are a major ticket item. So, I looked into buying do-it-yourself window film for my huge picture windows. In the summer, my house is like an oven with the heat they bring in. Wintertime means heat loss as the warm air seeps away. There are many options when it comes to film for existing windows...and just as many opinions about it. You can have industrial-grade window films professionally applied to existing glazing. The professional films block up to 99 percent of ultraviolet (UV) rays, saving furniture and rugs from fading while reducing heat buildup. This results in a huge savings on the cooling bills in the summer and maybe even the heating bills in the winter (it depends on the type of film you get). The 3M web site lists some products that are tax-deductible. Then you need to get an installer. Watch out for the warranty on your windows, though, as film applied can cause a heat buildup within the glass itself, resulting in seal failure. Some sites report that this generally occurs if the film is applied on the inside, so remember to install it on the exterior. The last set of debates centers on the cost of film versus replacement glass. When you calculate the cost of upgrading your UV and low-e protection, consider the tax credits, the longer life of your furnishings, the cost to purchase and the cost to install. If your warranty is voided on the original windows, be sure the window film company picks up the remainder of any warranty items so that you will have full coverage. If they will not, price out the cost of replacement glass with UV and low-e protection. If you're really on a budget and hope to replace the windows ASAP, go to the local home store and get do-it-yourself film. It may discolor down the road, but a season's protection from heat loss and heat buildup may be worth it.
Every profession needs a watchdog that can push it to even greater achievements. For remodelers, the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development's Partnership for Advancing Technology in Housing (PATH) has come up with an easy-to-follow, top 10 list for remodelers. The goal is to pinpoint areas where simple and effective improvements can be made. These items enhance overall structure, energy efficiency, healthy living and resource conservation. PATH's list touches almost every area of the home but in a meaningful and affordable way. When it comes to energy efficiency, PATH encourages correctly sized heating, ventilation and air conditioning (HVAC); compact fluorescent lighting; wireless lights and controls; spray foam insulation to prevent air infiltration; high-performance windows and storm windows; and programmable thermostats. For resource conservation, they suggest renewable materials for flooring, solar hot water, front-loading washing machines and low-flow toilets. They also advocate tubular skylights to bring more light to the interior and smart ventilation and ventilation controls to enhance the indoor air and living quality. One good thing about the PATH list is how simple it is to remember. Contractors and professional remodelers can use it as a checklist to see if they are hitting a percentage of these items in every remodel. Homeowners can use it as a gauge of how well they are doing in their home improvements. It's actually a guideline to successfully creating more livable, environmentally responsible houses and one that we can all achieve with a little planning and commitment.
There are those who jump awake at the slightest noise—me!—and those who can sleep through anything—my husband and son. Well, what a relief to a sound-sleeping family in Muncie, Ind., when their parrot imitated a smoke alarm last Friday night, waking them from a sound sleep and saving them from a burning house. The father and son had fallen asleep on the couch while watching a movie and didn't hear the smoke alarms that were sounding as the kitchen, dining room and bedroom burned. The parrot screamed until his owners woke up, grabbed him and exited the burning home. Homeowner Shannon Conwell said that he probably wouldn't have heard the alarm if he'd been in his room because he has a closed door and machines that muffle sound. He's grateful to a Friday night movie and his faithful parrot for saving the two of them. The lesson: Teach your parrot to sound the alarm and put a smoke alarm in every bedroom.
Since women make 85 percent of remodeling and home-improvement decisions and represent 44 percent of do-it-yourselfers nationwide, it's no wonder the battle is being waged for top home improvement retailer for women. According to consumeraffairs.com, Lowe's has been the preferred big box for women making home improvement decisions, but Home Depot aims to change all that. The Home Depot Design Center in Charlotte, NC., offers women-friendly options for shopping and buying, including products displayed in settings that are complete with doors, windows, fixtures, fabrics and furnishings. The goal of the Design Center is to showcase products in a way that speaks more to how women shop. For instance, appliances are available to try, and demonstrations are held regularly. Home Depot has learned that women prefer to see products in action and see how they work. The cooking demonstrations will give shoppers the chance to test out ovens, ranges, warmers and refrigerators. Products range in price from the very affordable to the high-end in an attempt to appeal to all budgets. The new Design Center is the first of its kind but is based on smaller versions that opened in California last spring. It's the same size as a regular orange Home Depot, but the shelves are human-scale and there are no forklifts moving through the aisles. Home Depot insists that it is not an attempt to start a new chain of stores, but with women's buying and decision making power, it wouldn't be a terrible idea. I have to know one thing, though: Are they wearing the signature orange aprons?
I've learned that it doesn't matter where you live—in a disaster-prone region or not—evacuations happen. This week, in our tiny Vermont area, it was a derailed gas car. Obviously, as I write, in Southern California it's the wildfires. In coastal regions, it's hurricanes. No matter what the emergency, people need to be prepared. I've looked at various sites that give advice on how to prepare for evacuations, and the guidelines are pretty simple. The message: We all need to be prepared. The very first thing you need to know is whether you have time to make preparations or if your evacuation is immediate. Now, long before you are asked to leave, make sure you know your evacuation routes and what media outlets you will turn to for updates and information. Never, ever take a shortcut if you are evacuated because those routes may be blocked. If you have time, secure your home by unplugging all electrical equipment except freezers and refrigerators, unless there is a risk of flooding. If you need to gather disaster supplies, do so. Check out our article, "Assembling Your Disaster Kit". Your best option is to have disaster supplies on hand and ready in case of a rapid evacuation. These supplies include key banking information, prescriptions and medical supplies, water and sturdy clothing. Keep a full tank of gas in the car as gas stations may be closed or empty. Have a battery-powered radio on hand. Let people know where you will go in case of an emergency and make plans with friends or relatives who can provide you with a safe place to stay. For more information, look at the Red Cross, FEMA or FLASH web sites. It makes sense for all of us, no matter where we live.
It's heart-wrenching to follow reports of wildfires that rip through portions of this country and are now ravaging California. We can all understand why there are fire codes to stop the spread of flames in these areas. But the truth is that residential fireproofing is important in every area of the country. My husband, an architect, cringes as he watches the flaming debris that falls around these houses. It reminds him of clients who opt for asphalt roof shingles that will not resist fire. At the very least, he says, they should choose fiberglass-based asphalt shingles instead of organic-based asphalt. Flying embers could happen for any number of reasons. Why not protect your roof? Especially since the ember, or "burning brand" as it's called, would be out of sight while it sets fire to your roof. The best solution is to select Class A shingles that will not ignite when exposed to an ember. Granted, we need to follow fire protection guidelines throughout the home, but the roof is typically the largest uninterrupted surface on any home. So, protect it when you get the chance by selecting roofing that will beat back a fire. You'll find there's probably an insurance break for that choice, too.